We go to Disneyland every other year and I send many families there yearly. By talking with them after they return (and adding my own experiences), I have come up with these money saving hints.
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There are two ways to see Disneyland - on a package or purchase all the parts separately. One is not necessarily the better deal - do your research to see which is best for you. One thing to remember, if you plan ahead you'll have time to explore your options and book in advance.
If you do go for a package deal you will get your hotel and tickets together. Airfare and a car or airport transfers are also available. You can order a package from a travel agent, the Disney Company, many airlines and AAA to mention a few.
First, look at the time you will be there, taking into consideration the time you arrive and depart. If you get in at 3:00 PM, do you want to use up one of your days on your ticket or maybe getting settled in and swimming at the hotel with an early bedtime (and early start the next day) would be a better idea? Looking at it this way, you will be able to see exactly how many days at the park you'll need and if you'll have time for more. Once that is figured out, check over all the bonuses (tours, other parks etc) that are included to make sure you will use them. If not, ask to have them removed and save yourself some money.
Also, look into rather or not transportation is included (Legoland is usually not) and the hours you are there. Many people get disappointed to find there are only at Universal Studios for 5 hours. This may sound like enough time, but with the long lines and the spread out area, it may not! Since you will be riding on a bus, the hours are pre-set and if you miss the bus back, a taxi ride back is VERY expensive!
Another note: as a family, you can still choose to go to different places. An example would be our last trip where I took our oldest to Universal and my husband took the younger ones to Sea World.
A package deal works well if you just want to pick where you go and have someone else make the plans.
If you'd like more control, then buying things separately may be for you. Your best way to save is to find decent airfare and hotel costs. Airlines have only so many tickets to sell at the lowest fare and when they are gone, the price goes up. This is also true with hotels and their rooms; therefore, booking far in advance will get you the better rates. Note: For a small amount, you can add an early admission to one of your days at Disneyland.
When to go
Disneyland prices remain the same year round. The only different is the operating hours and the size of the crowds. If your children are pre-school (or home schooled) consider going when school is in. The crowds will be much less and your time in line will be cut by more than half! Many of the hotels will also drop in price, making the trip cost even less. Always check the airlines own websites, since many offer internet specials.
Where to stay
There are many choices around the park as well as the Disneyland hotel. The best way to save money, is to stay at one of the off-site hotels that offer a free breakfast. They usually start serving at 6:00 AM so you will have time to grab a bite before heading over to the Park. Since these are "all you can eat" buffets you can fill up even your hearty eaters for free!
The other thing to look for in a hotel is a way to help with the other meals. Some hotels have a microwave and/or a refrigerator that will help you keep the costs down.
Below is a list of some of the less expensive hotels that offer a free breakfast as well as if they have a refrigerator, R microwave M or coffemaker C. These are the hotels that will book first, so again, book early!
800-772-4222 R for a fee
Anaheim Best Inn Maingate
Anaheim Carriae Inn
Anaheim Desert Inn & Suites
Best Western Raffles Inn & Suites
800-654-0196 M,R only in some rooms
Candy Cane Inn
800-345-7057 M,R in deluxe rooms
Park Inn International
Park Vue Inn
Ramada Maingate Saga Inn
800-854-8097 kitchenette in suites
The next two hotels don't offer a free breakfast, but they do offer your children free lunches and dinners with paid adult meals!
Holiday Inn Anaheim
800-545-7275 24 hour pool with children's play fountain and in room video games.
Westcoast Anaheim Hotel
800-325-400 Playstation in each room
How to get around
All of the hotels around Disneyland offer shuttles to and from the park. So, why consider a car at all? If you want to explore the area, go out to dinner away from the hotel, grocery shop or visit other parks are just some of the reasons. You will need to figure out what you will be doing to see which works best for your family.
If you go with a package, you will be able to set it up then. You will have a choice of a transfers or a car.
If you are making plans yourself, here is something to consider. First off you need to get from the airport to your hotel. There are shuttle buses that make stops at all the hotels that run continually to and from the airport. This will cost you a lot less than a taxi. You can also pick up a rental car there.
If you choose to rent a car, check the different company’s websites to compare rates. You can also email them (or call) and ask them if they have any coupons to send you. There are a lot of car companies and most of them will work for your business so don’t be afraid to ask. Some of the companies also give discounts to seniors and AAA members.
One of the ways to save money is to take the bus to and from the airport. Once at the hotel, use the free shuttle buses and trams to get to and from the park. If you plan to visit some of the other parks rent a car for a day. There are a lot of rental agencies around the hotels from which to do this. This will allow you to set your own hours and be a lot less than renting one for the entire trip.
The Park Itself
The best deal is a multi-day pass, which is cheaper than buying daily tickets. Children 2-9 can use a child's ticket but children 10 and over are the same price as adults.
Food inside the park is much more expensive than outside. One way to avoid this is to go back to your hotel for lunch and bring fruit and water bottles (or fruit boxes) in with you.
Another big in-park expense is the always necessary souvenir. One place to get these for A LOT less is to drive north from the park (on the freeway) about a mile to the Anaheim Park Shopping Center. There you can go to the local Walmart and save on Disney merchandise with their large Mickey & Co. section.
One time I made a trip there while my husband was swimming with the kids. I put out what I bought on the table with a note from Mickey. My youngest must have told a hundred people that Mickey bought his shirt and stuffed toy for him!
There is also a Toys R US about two miles from the park with an expanded Disney area. One fun thing to get is an autograph book (about 1/2 price here) that way your child can get the autographs from all his favorite Disney characters.
Don't forget to pick up extra film and some easy to carry snacks while you are there too so you don't get stuck paying triple inside the Park!
One more thing -- take a lot of pictures! Vacations pass quickly, too quickly, and those pictures will be a joy for years.
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